Being accepted to study for a year at Queens University under an exchange program at my undergrad college was probably the highlight of my youth. Packing for said trip, however, was my downfall. I don’t remember exactly what I brought with me, but I know it involved two large suitcases, a trunk, and two carry ons. I looked ridiculous pushing all of that luggage on a cart through Heathrow, transferring to a domestic flight.
In retrospect, brining that much stuff was absolutely overkill, even for a 10 month trip.
To be fair, I had never been a really great packer. At the end of every year of college, I would pack all of my stuff until the following year. Most would be stored at my best friend’s house, the rest would be shipped home with me to Oregon and then back again at the beginning of the next year. Inevitably, after my best try at packing, my best friend would come in and redo the entire job for me. She always managed to get more stuff into less space.
Packing for a 1-2 week trip (or even 3) is admittedly much easier than packing up your life every 4 months, but it’s still a challenge. There are a lot of things one needs to factor in such as weather, activities, and social expectations.
Let’s break that down a bit.
Yes, weather is unpredictable, but you can at least try to anticipate what you’re going to need. Clearly, if your destination is warm, you don’t need as many layers for warmth. However, if you anticipate rain or snow, it’s important to bring layers. I’m a fan of base layers because they aren’t bulky to pack. Sometimes, you just get stuck in bad weather. When I was in Istanbul, my friends and I were drenched in a sudden downpour as we made our way to the Chora Church outside of the city center. Of course, right at that moment, the price of umbrellas soared, so we just got wet and dealt with it. If we had foreseen rain for the next few days, of course we would’ve paid the price.
Unless you’re just going to the beach to lay out and relax, you’re probably going to be doing a mix of activities. This can sometimes make packing a challenge as you want to be properly attired for different scenarios. When I went to Turkey, I knew I’d be doing a whole lot of walking around the city, but I also wanted to be prepared for a nice dinner out. So I brought a dress that was on the casual side but could be dressed up with a simple necklace and earrings. Shoes were the hardest for me because comfortable shoes that are also not dowdy can be hard to find. Shoes also take up a lot of space in your luggage, so you don’t want to overdo it there. It took some time, but I settled on a pair of keens (see next post for more info). The only thing I didn’t factor in, because I didn’t expect it, was hiking. Fortunately my keens worked out, but a good pair of tennis shoes would’ve been better.
Sadly, this sign exists because people are stupid.
This is something that women need to consider more often than men, but that doesn’t mean men should just wear whatever they want. I feel that it’s best to blend in with the culture as much as possible, especially in more conservative countries. It’ll be important for you to do your research, and I recommend reading travel books and using google. For example, for men and women, wearing shorts for just walking around is not acceptable in Indonesia. Just a quick google search came up with these suggestions. Does this mean that I always 100% follow the social norm? No, but sometimes I regret it. For example, when I was in Istanbul, I brought a dress that showed my shoulders. It definitely brought me some unwanted attention. I might’ve gotten that attention anyways, but it made me feel a bit more visible than I would’ve liked to be.
In the next post, I’ll focus more on specific gear that you should/shouldn’t bring and how to pack.